With its long stretch of sandy beaches barely touched by tourism, the province of Nakhon Si Thammarat is probably one of the best kept secrets in southern Thailand. While nearby Ko Samui has morphed from a quiet island of coconut palms into a busy and world-renowned tourist destination, the mainland beaches at Khanom in Nakhon Si Thammarat province have remained virtually untouched. This makes the area ideal for anybody who finds Ko Samui too developed or who wants to enjoy the simple pleasures that Khanom has to offer. And if you do visit this unheralded part of Thailand, take time out to explore the historic city of Nakhon Si Thammarat and other attractions in the province.
Nakhon Si Thammarat city
Few foreign visitors make it to the historic city of Nakhon Si Thammarat and you can expect a warm welcome as you wander around town. Nakhon Si, as the locals call it, has always been one of the most important cities in southern Thailand. Historians disagree over the date the city was originally founded, but it is thought to date back at least 1,500 years and has been known in the past as Tambralinga and Ligor. Over the centuries, Nakhon Si Thammarat was an important maritime hub for traders from across the world including those from the British, Portuguese and Dutch empires in addition to China, India, and Sri Lanka.
Culture lovers will find the city an enjoyable one to explore. Head first to the helpful Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) office where you can find some handy maps in English which detail suggested walking routes taking in the main attractions of the city. Explore the remnants of the old city walls and wander along Tha Chang Road (near the TAT office) to shop for handicrafts, souvenirs, and the local nielloware jewellery.
The highlight of Nakhon Si Thammarat is the magnificent Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahavihan with its imposing 77-metre high chedi surrounded by 149 smaller ones. Twice a year, Wat Phra That Woramahawiharn is the focus for the colourful Hae Phra Khuen That procession. On Makha Bucha Day and Visakha Bucha Day, Buddhists pay homage by wrapping cloth around the main chedi at the temple.
Nakhon Si Thammarat is considered the home of the traditional shadow puppet performances known as ‘nang talung‘. And there is no better place to gain an appreciation of this ancient art form than the excellent Ban Nang Talung shadow puppet museum which sits in the grounds of the home of the National Artist, Suchart Subsin.
With your own transport, make the journey into the countryside to visit Baan Khiri Wong, an excellent example of community based tourism that is helping to preserve local traditions. Located close to the tallest mountain in southern Thailand, Khao Luang, staying in Baan Khiri Wong is a great way to soak up the local culture while enjoying the mountain scenery.
Located in the northern half of Nakhon Si Thammarat province, Khanom may be geographically close to Ko Samui, but it is miles away in terms of development and the number of tourists. And it is this lack of development that appeals to discerning visitors who eschew Thailand’s bigger and better known destinations in favour of laid-back Khanom with its long sandy beaches and friendly atmosphere.
There are a number of different beaches and bays to explore in Khanom district with all of them enjoying a similar low-key vibe. Take in the sea air with a long stroll along the empty beach or sit down with a good book and simply relax. The majority of the beachfront in Khanom is undeveloped with just a smattering of resorts and restaurants making it an ideal location to chill out away from the crowds.
The area is famous for its pink dolphins, a rare albino breed with a vibrant pink tinge, which can often be seen in the waters off Khanom. Boat trips to the nearby islands and to spot the pink dolphins can be arranged by Khanom Tour although sightings depend on weather, sea conditions and luck.
Unlike many other beach destinations in Thailand, public transport options in Khanom are limited. This helps with the feeling of seclusion and if you want to explore all of the Khanom coastline you will need to hire your own transport.
Food and drink in Khanom
There isn’t a huge food scene in Khanom and unless you have hired a car or motorbike most visitors will eat at their hotel or at the small beachside restaurants close by. Among the venues worth seeking out are Margarita Beach: Bar, Grill, Shacks. With a lovely beachfront setting, the restaurant is open daily from 7.30am-9pm serving Western and Thai dishes. Daniel at Margarita Beach also recommends SP Restaurant at Phuphat Resort for authentic and reasonably priced Thai food served up by Khun Sopa and her team.
Other suggested venues include Bottega Jira (Italian food), Le Petit St Tropez (Thai and European), CC Bar & restaurant (Thai and Western) and the beach restaurant at Khanom Golden Beach Hotel (Thai).
Where to stay in Khanom
The area known as Khanom covers a long stretch of coastline which extends down to Sichon and takes in a number of mainland beaches including Nadan Beach and Nai Phlao Beach. You won’t find the same range and choice of accommodation in Khanom as you will on nearby Ko Samui, but you will still find a good selection of beach-front bungalows and value for money hotels.
Racha Kiri Resort & Spa
Sea Mountain Khanom
Travel inland from Nakhon Si Thammarat to neighbouring Surat Thani province and the outstanding beauty of Khao Sok National Park. The gorgeous Cheow Larn Lake and Ratchaprapa Dam are only 90 minutes drive away from Khanom and makes for an excellent day trip. Alternatively, stay overnight at the award-winning Elephant Hills.
The airport at Nakhon Si Thammarat is located around 10 miles north of the city centre. If you are travelling to the beaches of Khanom you can use either Nakhon Si Thammarat or Surat Thani airport which are both approximately 90 minutes away by taxi.